Monday, January 21, 2008

Clutching at Straws

With so much signal noise, there has been little meaningful news. One would expect even more useless banter and gimmickry in the weeks to come, as the Syrian “counter-revolution” gears up, to accelerate in full swing after our tired diva does her thing…

Sleeping with the Enemy

Underneath all the manoeuvring lies a hidden sectarian agenda; what was once a Alawite regime has now been reduced by internal squabbles to a regime of (some) Alawites.

Faced with a potential resurgence of a once oppressed community, the regime is reacting in a classical sectarian manner, painting his opponents as Sunni extremists. By placing the debate in the context of a Sunni-Alawite opposition, the regime is able to stoke the fears needed to circle the wagons. But it needs to build a sectarian alliance would have Shiites, Christians, and Druze aligned together. However, while this bill of goods found willing buyers among many Lebanese, no sale; there is little unanimity.

Yes, the Assad strategy finds willing allies among Shiite parties, whose stranglehold over their community is reinforced by a combination of coercion, cooption, or a sense of collective grief… However, since Lebanon is a collection of minorities, the “Qajar’s method” needs some adjustments, and only an alliance of sectarian groups can work.

However, the strategy has united the Druze, who have learned to have a “long view” of history. However, it has not united them against Bashar; for all the prodding, Joumblat is not budging (yet). Not only is his hold over the Druze is strengthening, but it is expanding into Syria proper.

Bishop Bating

Worse, this sectarian strategy has divided Christians. For all the Christians gather around Aoun (and the stress he’s under may be starting to show), they remain a shrinking minority, only held together by their revulsion of Geagea, or dislike of Gemayel. Those same aversions ensure that his Christian opponents are not much reinforced by his weakness.

So the regime is casting around for support in the community, but can only find the same old tools. The amateurish brutality of Slimy-the-Younger can not hide this bankruptcy, they highlight it. The Village idiot's attacks against the Patriarch are typical of past Syrian tactics; when they had let the kid loose on Rafik Hariri. Slimy would copiously insult him during the meetings of the council of ministers, and Hariri then had little choice but to ask them to hold the leash. This is when they would use a bigger pitbull such as Hobeika to rein him in, and Hariri would owe them a favour… But this time the conditions are different.

Body Snatching

Their tactics are not working too well on the Christians; all they have to show for it is a few songs and dances. So the regime tried to compensate its weak “cultural” pull, and exert some sort of “push” on the glacier tightening around it. In this, the old levers of Lebanese “opposition” can still be useful. Key to this tactic is their attempt to de-legitimize the Lebanese Government.

First, they push for a presence of the “opposition” alongside the government at Arab summits, but Qandil 2.0 can only waste more oxygen. They could hardly have found a worse spokesperson.

More credibly, they use Mailbox-Berri, to send the message that “Without Syria and Saudi Arabia, there will be no resolution to the Lebanese crisis”… But the mailbox is overused; yes, the Saudis are preparing themselves for a more active role, but they are slowly moving towards a collision course with the Syrian regime. In the games of cloak and dagger, brutality works, but money talks louder.

Then, they send ShaterHassan to push for (another) trade with Israel... aving little to offer in the matter of live prisoners, he can only "offer" body parts... Or is he desperately baiting them? Either way, the approach smacks of desperation; Israelis are either unlikely to go for the gruesome offer, or to take the bait. Whatever one thinks of Tsahal and their depredations in Lebanon, talk about traiding body parts remains beyond contempt. No amount of religious sophistry can justify it, and any short-term gains can only come with long-term costs, further isolating and weakening Hezb'O…

Digging Deeper

The Syrians will not give up so easily, and their little push-pull act is only the beginning. Do not expect the regime to pause; now that they have dug themselves in hole, they will keep on digging. The ongoing deconstruction of (an already poorly constructed) Lebanon will accelerate over the coming two weeks, and the pace of rotting will be maintained, beyond the next 3 weeks, and at least till March…

During that wasted time, whatever remains of Lebanon’s secular hopes could be even more reduced. But it will not be annihilated. By derailing the Suleiman candidacy in such a blatant manner, the regime has effectively alienated one powerful secular group; the Lebanese Army, further weakening Aoun and cutting him off from (yet) another part of his base. But I expect that enough "secular juice" will be left to fill the ever increasing political void; for all its faults, the alliance grouped around March 14th is not a completely sectarian one.

With the prospect of a Suleiman presidency all but "over", the pressure is back again on Syria, and the field is wide open again. So expect the Syrians to act "true to form", and to bring back the bombs... And, as the Regime misreads and miscalculates, it will all backfire again... So there is hope for those lucky enough to have made it. If they do not emigrate first, that is...

… But is there time?

The current US administration is attached to the success of Lebanon. Yet this president is a lame duck, and no since no incumbent vice-president is running this time (a rare occurrence), so is his entire team. So there will be an entirely new administration in the White House, and what the next POTUS plans to do. More specifically, how does he/she plan to realize a "a Lebanon whose government has a monopoly on authority within its country"...


6 comments:

fubar said...

There is no more time. M14 missed the train in November. It is now too late...time waits for no man...

Jeha said...

I think they did not even go on the train; they missed it with the famous "tripartite agreement" electoral deal, and they have been running after the train since June '05...

fubar said...

Well, you may be right. Clearly, you would know better about that than I. But M14 certainly missed their opportunity to get on the LAST train in November 2007. We are now in a fire watch and damage control situation...

Lalebanessa said...

why don't you think the israelis would trade for body parts,they've done it before,so wouldn't they do it again?

Jeha said...

Lalebanessa,

Precisely because they've done it in the past...And since they have not traded (yet) for allegedly live prisoners, why would they trade for dead remainsm especially when "offered" in this manner?

In addition, this time the entire context is different; I feel that this stage of the struggle may well be perceived as existential to both the United States and Iran, so both sides are playing "for keeps". In this context, this easily translates to an escalation among their client states; Israel, and Syria, as well as Iran's Lebanese branch of the Pasdaran, Hezb'O... and Lebanon is in the middle.

Roman Kalik said...

Right now Hassan Nasrallah looks like a bloodthirsty warlord selling off trophies (the mention of heads in his speech was quite... fitting). Israel won't bite because Nasrallah turned what was once a matter of secret negotiations with the Red Cross serving as the middleman (as happened quite recently) into a public display of goading Israelis with parts of their dead comrades, and public blackmail with body parts.

The last time that was widespread in Jewish history was during the time of the Crusader kingdoms. Soldiers would kidnap people for a ransom, and then kill the hostage and demand a second ransom for the body after the first one was paid.

Judaism demands to bury all that may be recovered of the body, but the Rabbinical ruling was to stop paying body-ransoms. And we tend to have long memories, so Hassan won't be getting any body-ransoms today.